September 07, 2016

Houston climbed to No. 6 in the rankings and the Cougars are leaving tracks based on two of the most significant wins ever for the American Athletic Conference powerhouse.

The Cougars took down Florida State to end the 2015 season and kicked off 2016 in style, upsetting third-ranked Oklahoma at NRG Stadium with an echo that rattled the national rankings, propelling UH from No. 15 to sixth.

Of course, Houston coach Tom Herman was willing to celebrate only after identifying the many areas he wants the Cougars to improve entering Saturday's game (Noon ET) against Lamar.

"We had some coverage busts in the secondary," Herman said. "Then at the four-minute mark we were about to go up 40-17 on the No. 3 team in the country and we fumbled the ball going into the dang end zone and put our defense back out on the field. That's obviously very unacceptable."

Houston came out of the massive win over the Sooners a little worse for wear in the backfield. Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. required an MRI exam on his sore shoulder but was expected to participate in practice after Herman said "there's nothing structural, just some soft tissue stuff." Ward lost the fumble Herman bemoaned but otherwise played with precision in orchestrated the upset.

Ward had 321 passing yards and two touchdowns in the opener.

"From last year to this year, it's like night and day," Herman said.

Though a short week awaits Houston with a Thursday night meeting against Cincinnati in the AAC opener next week, complacency is likely to be squashed by the energetic Cougars' staff this week. Expectations are sky high and only rising for Herman's club, which is 15-1 since he came to town from Ohio State.

"The culture that is ingrained in this program will not allow it," Herman said. "I think these guys know that if coach McKnight or any of our assistants for one minute think that there is complacency or the foot is being let off the gas, they're going to get smacked in the face with the proverbial shovel and reminded of what our culture demands of them."

Of course, Lamar is not Oklahoma. It will not bring a national television audience or months and weeks of massive hype. This is not a statement game on the surface, but Herman wants to ensure it is just that.

The Lamar football program returned in 2010 after a hiatus and had 31 wins in six seasons as a Southland Conference member.

That might not generate a buzz on Houston's campus this week but he's hopeful TEDCU Stadium will be a popular place Saturday and going forward.

"If we fashion ourselves to be a big time football program, like the big time programs in the country, it does not matter what the opponent is or what is on their jersey," Herman said. "Their fans, students and alumni come and support and watch their team play."

Along with Ward, running back Duke Catalon (ankle) is expected to be in the lineup against Lamar.

"He finished up the game, we expect him back," Herman said.

Lamar's offense is not without impact players.

Senior running back Kade Harrington was the runner up for the STATS FCS National Offensive Player of the Year award in 2015. He became the seventh player in Division I history to rush for 2,000-plus yards in 10 games and set all sorts of program marks. Harrington ended the 2015 regular season as the nation's leader in rushing yards (2,092), rush yards per game (190.2), all-purpose yards (213.4), rushing touchdowns (21) and was second nationally in scoring (12.5 per game) and third in yards per carry (7.86).

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